SHARE
COPY LINK

HEALTH

Should Germany introduce calorie counts on restaurant menus?

It's now mandatory in England for large food chains to include calorie labelling on their menus. Should Germany follow, or is it a distraction from finding a more meaningful way to help people manage their weight?

Should Germany introduce calorie counts on restaurant menus?
A German restaurant serves up Weisswurst, the traditional Bavarian sausage. Photo: picture alliance / dpa-tmn | www.food-from-bavaria.de

One key appeal of restaurants and fast-food chains is that they require much less thought than cooking: once you’ve decided that what you’re really craving is a Döner kebab, the rest is up to the eaterie. Given this desire to feel pampered, do guests really want to think about the calorie content when choosing between a hearty Bratwurst, a bowl of Käsespätzle, or a salad? Would being able to count calories take some of the joy out of eating at your favourite German restaurant or takeaway?

The British government believes that providing calorie information on menus will help to reverse the recent increases in obesity levels. At the beginning of April, providing this information became compulsory for larger chains (covering restaurants, cafes, pubs, and home delivery/takeaway services with more than 250 employees). Mandatory menu labelling has also been introduced in other countries, including the US in 2019 and parts of Australia. German chains are currently under no such obligation, but the federal government has been considering whether this kind of measure would make sense.

READ ALSO: German doctors push for sugar tax to combat rising obesity 

A spokesperson for Germany’s Ministry of Food and Agriculture (BMEL) stated that they are currently examining whether a compulsory indication of calories in out-of-home catering is “possible and sensible,” a process which will involve evaluating both the practical and legal aspects of implementing such a rule, looking at the impacts on both companies and consumers. 

A sign saying a restaurant is open in Potsdam, Brandenburg.

A sign saying a restaurant is open in Potsdam, Brandenburg. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Fabian Sommer

‘Controversial’

Providing calorie information in restaurants in Germany has so far been voluntary – and is rare. Some chains do choose to list the nutritional information of their products on their websites: a ‘Big Mac’ from McDonald’s, for instance, has around 500 calories. Meanwhile, in a Block House chain restaurant a ‘Mr. Rumpsteak’ without side dishes has about 350 calories.

“We have been providing our guests with the allergens and nutritional values of Block House dishes for about 10 years,” said Markus Gutendorff, CEO of the Hamburg-based Block House AG restaurant chain.

Voluntary online information is one thing – but a legal obligation to include energy values on menus would be the wrong way to go, says the German Hotel and Restaurant Association (Dehoga).

“Dehoga is certainly against the mandatory indication of calories on menus in restaurants,” said Ingrid Hartges, General Manager of the association. “The new law is controversial in the UK – and not without reason.” The UK has seen backlash against the law from activists with eating disorders such as anorexia, who argue that mandatory calorie information is damaging to the mental health of individuals who struggle with obsessively counting calories.

While there is currently no obligation for restaurants to provide calorie counts in Germany, there is already one for supermarkets and other shops that sell pre-packaged food, which must be labelled with all sorts of nutritional information. This is in accordance with the EU’s “Regulation on Food Information to Consumers”, which was designed to ensure that consumers have everything they need to make informed decisions about various products and their nutritional value. This in turn was meant to help reduce the prevalence of obesity and other diseases such as diabetes in society, the very same argument behind these new menu laws in England.

In Germany, about two thirds of men (67 percent) and half of women (53 percent) are overweight, according to official data.  Around a quarter of adults (23 percent of men and 24 percent of women) are seriously overweight or obese.

READ ALSO: 20 key stats that help explain Germany

For Hartges, putting the number of calories on menus is not a suitable method in the fight against obesity. “Simply counting calories is no substitute for a balanced, healthy diet and exercise,” she said, pointing to the retail sector. “It is well known that customers in the supermarket reach for foods that are particularly high in calories, despite the information,” she said.

Furthermore, the association cites the extra work for pubs and restaurants if Germany were to go down this route. “Our industry is about enjoyment,” she said. “Imagine the bureaucratic effort for the businesses with offers that sometimes change daily, which would have to calculate the calories for the individual ingredients in the respective quantities for each dish.”

Antje Gahl, a spokesperson for the German Nutrition Society in Bonn, has a similar argument. She said: “In our view, calorie information on menus is not the focus when it comes to healthy nutrition.” Counting energy values could be important if a severely overweight person had to specifically reduce calories as part of a therapy, said Gahl. But she added that going to a restaurant is also about other things such as enjoyment. 

In certain restaurants – such as in fast-food chains or cafés, where the food is made to an exact recipe – cooking with a calorie chart is feasible – but not everywhere. In smaller restaurants and in upscale gastronomy, the creativity of the cook could suffer, said Gahl. She worries that a chef wouldn’t be able to “refine their recipes, for example with cream or a shot of alcohol, because then the calorie content changes”. At the moment, however, it’s worth remembering that the English law only affects larger chains – not small, local restaurants.

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.

READER QUESTIONS

Reader question: Is abortion illegal in Germany?

Reproductive rights are in the spotlight this week as the US debates possible landmark changes to abortion law. Here's what you need to know about abortion in Germany.

Reader question: Is abortion illegal in Germany?

A leaked document earlier this week claimed that the US Supreme Court is in favour of overturning a landmark 1973 ruling, called Roe v Wade, that made abortion legal in the USA.

The news has put a further spotlight on reproductive rights around the world. Readers of The Local have contacted us to find out about the laws on abortion in Germany. We spoke to campaigners for women’s reproductive rights to help explain what you need to know.

Is abortion illegal in Germany?

It may surprise many people to know that abortion remains technically illegal in Germany, but there are circumstances in which people can end a pregnancy without facing any legal consequences. 

The exceptions include: the abortion being performed within the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, and following mandatory counselling carried out at least three days before the procedure to terminate the pregnancy.

If there is a medical reason for an abortion, then it is not unlawful. This applies, for instance, if the pregnancy poses a danger to the life or physical and mental health of the woman. An abortion can also be carried out if tests identify that the foetus is disabled or seriously ill. Late abortions (after 12 weeks) are allowed if these special factors apply. 

Abortions are also legally possible if they are the result of a criminal act – for example if the pregnancy is the result of rape. 

The termination of a pregnancy is known as Abtreibung or Schwangerschaftsabbruch in German. Around 94,600 abortions were reported in Germany in 2021, according to official figures. 

The rate of abortions per 1,000 women in Germany stands at 6.8 – one of the lowest in Europe alongside Switzerland. The rate of abortions stands at 19 per 1,000 women in Sweden, 17 in the UK, 16 in France and 16 in the US.

People who choose to get an abortion in Germany generally have to cover the costs of the procedure themselves. 

According to the German Centre for Foreign Feminist Policy, which published information by Medical Students for Choice Berlin, abortion in Germany can cost between €200 and €650 depending on the methods involved. People can apply for financial help from their health insurance.

READ ALSO: Is abortion legal in Switzerland?

A pro-choice counter protester at the "March for Life" demo against abortion in Berlin in September 2020.

A pro-choice counter protester at the “March for Life” demo against abortion in Berlin in September 2020. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Jörg Carstensen

Tell me more about abortion laws in Germany…

There has been a lot of discussion about abortion in Germany in recent years. Germany’s traffic light coalition – made up of the Social Democrats, Free Democrats and Greens – recently announced plans to scrap paragraph 219a – a controversial clause on advertising abortion that has remained largely unchanged since it was brought in by the Nazis in the 1930s.

It has meant that doctors in Germany have been unable to advertise that they carry out abortions, and detail what methods they use – and has even resulted in prosecutions, such as the high profile case of Kristina Hänel, a doctor from Giessen in western Germany.

Getting rid of this paragraph should pave the way for more accessible information on abortion in Germany.

READ ALSO: Do Germany’s planned changes on abortion go far enough?

But abortion in Germany is still regulated by paragraph 218 of the criminal code, which dates back to 1871. Although the law has been amended to allow for exceptions, pro-choice campaigners in Germany want to see abortion fully legalised. 

Dr Alicia Baier, chairwoman of campaign group Doctors for Choice, said the German coalition government’s plans to get rid of paragraph 219a were a step forward.

But she said much more action was needed – including removing abortion from the criminal code. 

“I think German abortion laws are behind the times,” Baier told The Local. “There are many European countries which regulate abortion outside the criminal law. But in Germany we still criminalise abortion, we still have the obligatory waiting period, and obligatory counselling.”

Baier said abortion didn’t belong in criminal law. “That’s not the place for abortion, it should be regulated in some other law. Like in France – they regulate it in the public health law.”

Although the coalition government has said it wants to set up a working group to look at options for regulating abortion “outside of the framework of the criminal code”, there doesn’t seem much political appetite for big change.

Earlier this year, Katrin Helling-Plahr, FDP parliamentary group spokesperson for legal policy, told The Local: “We Free Democrats are of the opinion that Paragraph 218, as the result of a long societal discussion, represents a successful compromise with regards to protecting the life of the foetus and the right to self-determination of the pregnant person.”

Campaigners at the pro-life 'March for Life' in Berlin in September 2021.

Campaigners at the pro-life ‘March for Life’ in Berlin in September 2021. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Paul Zinken

Is it difficult for women in Germany to get an abortion in practical terms?

According to campaigners, it can be hard for people to find information on terminating pregnancy and doctors to carry it out depending on where they live.

“I think it really depends on the women themselves and where they are,” campaigner Annika Kreitlow, a research assistant with the Centre for Foreign Feminist Policy, told The Local. 

“I think in Berlin it’s okay – there are a lot of doctors in Berlin and a lot of progressive people move to Berlin. But if you live in the south of Germany, like in Bavaria for example, there are cities which don’t have any doctors who provide abortions at all.

“In the northern islands of Germany, people there also have to fly to the mainland to get an abortion – sometimes they have to travel 200 or 300km to get an abortion.”

Kreitlow also said people in Germany face additional barriers because of the mandatory counselling and three-day wait. 

“You have to be really consistent on finding a doctor who will do that before the 12th week. It depends on the region and also how much knowledge the person has on the situation,” she said. “If you’ve never come into contact with this and don’t know anyone who’s had an abortion, there’s a lot of fake information out there and fake websites.”

She said it’s more difficult for non-Germans.

“If you’re not a native German speaker and you come from somewhere else, it’s also very different to find the right information and distinguish what is real information and what is fake, who to trust and who to talk to,” Kreitlow said. “It’s a very difficult situation but a lot of circumstances make it even more difficult in Germany.”

How do the laws affect doctors?

Dr Baier said there was still a “big stigma” surrounding abortions in Germany – including in the medical profession. Although it is one of the most common gynaecological procedures, it is often hardly discussed at medical schools in Germany.

“In many universities – during six years of study – it’s not mentioned at all, or it’s mentioned in the context of medical law or medical ethics,” said Baier.

“It’s still very taboo in medicine. We wish it was acknowledged as part of medicine because it’s a medical procedure. In Germany, only doctors are allowed to perform them. If we don’t do it, people are left alone and that could cause a lot of health risks.”

Baier said the barriers for women in Germany looking to get an abortion, or for information on it, need to be urgently worked on.

“In some regions of Germany it’s catastrophic and people are treated very badly,” she said. “We have a modern health system but it doesn’t correspond to that at all in this area.”

 

Is there a large pro-life movement in Germany?

There’s a sizeable number of campaigners who are against abortion in Germany.

Pro-life events such as Marsch für das Leben (March for Life) take place every year in Berlin. In 2021 around 4,500 people attended the march, demonstrating against abortion and euthanasia laws. Counter-demonstrators from the pro-choice movement also march on the days of these events. 

SHOW COMMENTS